Peter Olaf
by Richard Grabmeier
Authors Press

"He dreamed of Minnesota, where Sven worked for farmers who had gone to that country years ago, and were now growing rich on the new land’s bounty."

On an early November morning in 1895, Peter Olaf leaves his home in Huskvarna, Sweden, and heads to Remer, a town outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan, with forty dollars in his pocket. Peter leaves the comfort of home, his family, and his girlfriend, Julia, to follow his dreams of moving to America and making his fortune. As soon as he makes enough money, he plans to provide travel for Julia to join him. After purchasing a gun, he befriends Gustav, another immigrant from Sweden, and the two begin an arduous journey to his cousin's logging camp. Peter soon discovers that logging is dangerous work. He strikes up solid friendships with the other men at the camp, and sadly, one of the men is killed. While hunting, Peter gets severe frostbite on his hands and cannot work. He is healed by the great Indian healer, Wise Otter. His granddaughter, Sarah, helps with Peter's recovery. He, in turn, teaches Wise Otter English. Peter is heartbroken to learn that Julia, still in Sweden, will marry another man. Sarah helps to console him, and the two fall in love, despite their differing cultures. Their relationship is severely tested, but their love eventually prevails after many hurdles.

This is a well-written story about a young man's determination to get to America and find his fortune. Although this is Peter's story, the author uses different points of view throughout the novel. This technique allows the reader to experience Julia's life in Sweden, where one come's to understand that while she loves Peter, she cannot wait for him to return for her. By bringing the reader into her world, the author helps the audience empathize with Julia's choice. At the same time, the reader feels the gentle pain that Peter feels when he learns that Julia will not be joining Peter in America. Grabmeier also brings his audience into Sarah's world after Peter leaves her. By doing so, the reader is able to experience Sarah's heartbreak firsthand. It is tragic to watch Sarah pine away for Peter, especially when her family tells her she is getting too old to live at home and needs to find a man to marry. One feels deep sympathy for her when she admits that she is falling in love with Peter.

Although the story is primarily about Peter and his adventures to America, a good deal of time is spent in Sarah's world as well. Grabmeier juxtaposes the Native American world and their spiritual beliefs against the white man and his Christianity. The author does a great job describing Peter's awakening about the Native American culture and the people's love and respect for the laws of nature. Peter's character undergoes a dramatic arc when he realizes that while he and his fellow loggers are destroying nature, the Native Americans only take from the earth what they need to survive. Instead of logging for money, Native Americans take from the forest only what they will use to build shelter. Sarah's ancestors teach Peter how to give back to the earth by celebrating it. Although Peter and Sarah have stark differences in their cultures, their love for one another eventually prevails, and their marriage represents two worlds coming together.

Much of the story is told through handwritten letters, lending the book an epistolary feel. This is a clever way to keep the reader and Peter updated on events back at home in Peter's previous life, as well as giving insight into Sarah's world. At its heart, this is the story of a young man's adventure into the brave new world. Peter is the hero of the journey, and Grabmeier hits all the marks required in such a narrative. The author also weaves a gripping love story into the plot. Peter and Sarah may be soulmates, but their significantly different cultures prevent them, at first, from coming together. Overall, Grabmeier paints a vivid picture of America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Fans of historical fiction and grand adventures will find a lot to love in this novel.

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